How to encourage parents to switch off the television and talk to their children instead.

The following post is aimed at healthcare professionals and teachers.

Through the Practica Programme, we meet hundreds of parents from many backgrounds every year. And, similar to you in your profession, we regularly engage with parents who seem to be unaware of the fact that they are headed in the wrong direction regarding the amount of television that they allow their children to watch. The dilemma, then, is how to gently introduce the subject without sounding judgmental or that we’re handing out unsolicited advice.

Break the ice with a relatable question.

An introductory question that grabs the attention of parents from all cultures and walks of life without offending anyone, is: “Have you ever wondered how to teach your child to do things for himself while he is young, so that you won’t need to do his homework for him when he is in school one day?”

Then grab the opportunity.

When the parent responds with interest, jump in and proceed to give advice. Don’t hold back. Bear in mind that a single tidbit of advice about this issue can literally change a child’s life for ever – if only you can motivate the parent to put it into practice!

Keep the conversation short by sharing only 3 tips at a time.

Tip 1: Deliberately train your child’s brain to focus and follow directions.

We typically say: “There is a special region in every person’s forebrain that organizes his or her brain like an executive organizes employees in his company, or a conductor conducts musicians in an orchestra to perform in harmony. This region houses the ‘executive function of the brain’ and it doesn’t develop without practice. The more it is used, the easier it will become for your child to concentrate and complete tasks step by step.”

Continue in an excited tone of voice, saying to the parent: “You can kick off practising this brain region by focusing on good manners and training him to act in socially acceptable ways. This will help your child to develop self-control and perseverance. Also involve him in everyday activities that unfold step-by-step: do household chores together and read familiar bedtime stories over and over again – to the point where he will be able to predict (and say in his own words) what’s going to happen on the next page.”

Tip 2: Switch off the television to develop language and thinking skills.

Few parents know that researchers have found that the number of words spoken in a household roughly doubles when the television is no longer switched on in the background – even when nobody was watching in the first place! To read more, visit this post.

Children learn language from hearing it, so the number of words spoken directly to a child in a household has a huge impact on his developing speech and language skills. Furthermore, language is not only used to communicate – it’s also necessary for a child to learn to think and reason. It’s definitely worth the investment to rather switch off the television and talk to your child instead. That way he’ll be developing the intellectual skills that will save you from having to do his homework one day!

Tip 3: Play educational games that have a starting point, steps to follow and a desired outcome.

Typically, when a parent and child play an educational game together, the parent explains the goal, the rules and the desired outcome of the game. He or she then motivates the child and guides him to plan and execute the activity step-by-step.

Children initially need lots of guidance, but as time passes, and their brain wiring develops, they become more independent. It’s as if they literally learn to hear their parents’ voices in their mind’s ear. In this way they slowly but surely learn to initiate, execute and complete various slightly challenging tasks without assistance.

This explains why children, who are privileged enough to play educational games with their parents in one-on-one situations before entering school, display more self-confidence and act more independently.

Focus on selling a dream.

As professionals, we naturally don’t spend enough time with one parent to be able to constantly “dangle a carrot in front of the donkey’s nose”, as the old saying goes. And sticks don’t motivate. But dreams do. People are best motivated to change their behaviour when they believe that the change will bring them to a place where they will be better off. In short, if you can sell a dream, you can change a life.

More useful links:

To watch the video about Executive Function that Lizette used during her presentation at the Aspen Experts Symposium, click here.

To learn more about the support that the Practica Programme offers to parents to enable them to play age-appropriate educational games with their children as part of their everyday lifestyle, click on this link.

If you are a healthcare professional, and you would like to watch Lizette van Huyssteen’s presentation at the Aspen Experts Symposium, click here.

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